More Chicken Rules!

MORE CHICKEN RULES

We are in the midst here at Darwin’s View, moving the chicken coop and bus stop from their winter position—that we thought would be permanent—to where we hope will be their new and, yes, permanent home to the north of the annual garden area. You might ask, “Will this be the thirteenth or fourteenth coop rendition since you adopted the chickens in 2012?” Or, as likely, you might look at us askance and say, “Why, for pity’s sake, are you moving them again?”

Winter lesson: It might be convenient to have the chickens nearby for those arctic winter treks to water and feed them but the amount of chicken feathers, dander and manure that has been tracked into the house is fantastic. I have reached my limit of gross. The alacrity with which Carl agreed and proceeded to move all things coop and bus stop run from the household/human area affirms that he, too, has reached his limit. Thus, the chickens are back across the driveway where they used to live prior to last fall’s winter move. The hiccup being, they are not in a fully Fort Knoxian situation. In the return process, the old coop made way for the quonset hut coop, and the old runs were dragged up and behind the solar panels, next to the water catchment pond, there to await repurposing. At least, that was our plan. Mother Nature had other ideas and destroyed them during last week’s windstorm.  The remnants of the run dot the landscape.

Further exposing our disheveled state? Two of our three geriatric (at age six) hens are sick. Ping—one of our original chicks—and Chickadee—an adoptee that same year. Both hens sit with their tails hanging down, in part, perhaps, embarrassed by their dirty bottoms. Chickadee in particular. This winter I suspected she had arthritis, the way she limped, exuding discomfort whenever she moved. She used to be a weighty hen but is now boney and light when I pick her up. Which I do only rarely. I don’t want to disturb her when she stands still, eyes half closed. She has been “off” for at least as long as Brownie was sick. 

Did I not mention that we lost the last of our devilish triplets last month? I still don’t know why but Brownie started down the hill of non-recovery and got a mite infestation. Mites won’t kill a healthy hen but they will definitely take out an unhealthy one. All my efforts to help Brownie—Epsom salt baths and blow drying her feathers; assisting with dust baths; spraying the environs with various anti-mite natural sprays because the insecticide warnings sounded more deadly to us than to the mites; hovering and worrying. Nothing helped. In fact, I think I made things worse for the little hen when I attempted that second dust bath of wood ash, dirt and diatomaceous earth. Both of us were coughing by the end of it.  I didn’t know what to do, who to turn to, until I stepped out one morning to see Brownie squatted down, feathers matted and mites crawling over her shut eyes. Yet still breathing, she was the epitome of abject misery and resignation. I called for Carl. He took her to the chop block. 

There is something quite final about a headless chicken. After weeks of anxious thinking about her, trying to save her, abruptly, there’s no hope. Only the hovering question why am I doing this? I’m no steward, nor farmer. I should rehome them all to someone who knows what they are doing.

Meanwhile, two more sick hens with dirty butts. What to do? Cleanliness is key. I prepared to give the sick girls baths. 

Epsom salts. Three buckets of warm water. Medical gloves. An extra layer of clothing. I walked over to the new coop area where Schtude was prancing about, overseeing his four sisters who were merrily pecked. CooLots and Apricot, too. Ping and Chickadee were sitting under the coop looking . . . meh. I donned the gloves, picked up Chickadee and took her to the bathing area. The buckets weren’t really big enough for her, and was the water too cool or too warm? Was it uncomfortable having me loosen those cling-ons? I removed her from the first, now filthy bucket of water, and plunk into the second bucket went her bum. She was not a happy teabag. A brief struggle. Not done with her cleaning, yet I let her go. I didn’t want to stress her anymore than she already was by Schtude, who harasses anything that moves, jumping up on even his sick coop mates, and attacking my muck boots with me in them.

Dumping the buckets, washing them out, refilling them with warm water, I then proceeded to Ping. I picked her up and settled her down into the first bucket. She kept up a steady conversation. Our Dominque is a sweet, chatty girl. With her rose comb and curious nature, she is my long-time favorite. I have neglected her all winter in favor of the new girls who are so aggressively friendly that it’s hard to make one’s way to the more retiring older hens. If only because there is Schtude, ever scuttling about, sending warnings, eyeing me with suspicion. I paid him no heed, holding onto the soft, downy Ping with both hands in the bucket, tidying her bottom until Bam! My head was knocked by a very hard kerfuffle of feathers. My eyeglasses went flying. So did Ping. I covered my head with my arms, closed my eyes. A very bad headache. Was that blood trickling down my cheek? I shouted for Carl. A deep ache on either side of my head, breathless from shock, and the damned rooster still making feints at me. 

“Carl!” 

He came running.

For the record, cocks have claws, and then there are the hook-like spurs an inch or two above the claws. Whereas Big Red, all those years ago, had very long spurs, Schtude’s are rather short and stubby. Luckily. I only have bruises on both temples, a bit of broken skin, a post migraine-style headache, and a slightly blurry right eye with an extra floater.

Much as I’d like to blame Schtude, it was my fault. Like many roosters, he doesn’t like my attentions to his hens. And when I think back to that moment, he was there dancing about, a yellow feathery blur, clucking and scolding. But I felt more concern for my sick hen than to the antics of that dastardly cock. He was right there in front of me, warning me. I didn’t take note. And so he attacked. 

I took a couple of hours to recover but I figured getting attacked by an overzealous cock is like getting thrown by a horse: it’s important to get back out, not be dominated by a yellow feather of attitude. He came at me. We spent a minute, each trying to get the upper hand, or wing as the case may be. Eventually, I succeeded in grabbing him.

I believe it is highly insulting to a roo to be held, embarrassing to be humbled in front of his hens. I told him to suck it up and deal because I am bigger than he is, however formidable he might seem to the terrorized hens. And then I apologized for the stress of the coop move. The upset of his two hens being dunked. I forgave him his brutality while giving him a long tour of what would be the new chicken area if ever we have time to get to it, and then I set him down. He scuttled off. Just out of reach, he paused to let out a mighty cock-a-doodle-do. I thought about rules and how, according to my rules, all was forgiven. We had reached an understanding, made peace. But, by now, I know Roo Rules are different. When I look out my office window, I watch him and know he is planning his revenge.

And I ask you: Do I rehome him? Do I send Chickadee and Ping to the chop block and rehome the Suffragettes and Squeaky and Swallow, CooLots and Apricot? Or do I do like a rooster and shout out against the wind and nature, “Damn the torpedoes! Hope springs eternal! I’m going to adopt more chickens!” And maybe some guinea fowl to eat the burgeoning population of ticks. Ducklings to eat slugs and be generally cute. But not goats. Those we will rent. In early June. Twelve of them will come with a dog and a shelter and their very own electric fence. . ..